Temple of Vanessa
The Straight Story
Soaps In Depth - Apr 18, 2000
In 1996, Sherry Stringfield stunned the entertainment world when she left her role of Dr. Susan Lewis on the NBC hit ER -- a coveted gig that not only paid her a seven-figure salary, but also earned her three Emmy nominations -- because she was just plain exhausted. On paper, her decision seemed nonsensical. Heck, even brought to life, it came off a tad"D'oh."
However, not everyone in Hollywood was furrowing their meticulously plucked brows. Sure, when Vanessa Marcil GH and gave up her phenomenally popular part of Brenda Barrett, she had all but sewn up her next job -- on BEVERLY HILLS 90210. But, when she left that show this winter, the move was a bona fide Stringfield. "I dont think that people completely get that you dont have a life when you're on tv," she offers. "By the time you get home, you're exhausted. And then you have to learn your lines for the next day. And if you're a real actress, you work on your stuff. So by the time you do all of that, you pass out and then wake up and go back."
Like the former ER star, when Vanessa split from 90210, she didnt have a fall-back plan; she just wanted to spend more time with her family... and to, well, clean house. And, as she tells it, her life's never been more beautiful. "The American dream is to be rich, famous and successful -- all those things that society tells us we need to be happy. But who knew that to quit a job where I have all those things and, like, scrub my kitchen floor would make me so deliriously happy?"
Exit Stage Left
It didnt take long for Vanessa to come to the realization that she wanted to move out of her new zip code. "The hours turned out to be a lot longer than I thought," sighs the two-time Emmy nominee, who debuted on 90210 in November 1998, three months after her GH character was sent plummeting off an embankment to her "death." "The hours on a primetime show are really long because you're on location. And it's a lot of waiting, and I'm not good at that."
As a result, Vanessa suddenly found herself reeling from a case of deja vu. "A lot of projects came up while I was on 90210 that I wasnt available for, because again, I was in a big contract where I couldnt leave, couldnt cut my hair... I left GH because I realized I was working so much that I hadnt really spent much time with my family and my friends, or worked on my house, and you know, just lived. And all of a sudden, I'm on 90210. I had a week off between the two, so I still hadnt had a chance to do any of that."
Part of the problem, Vanessa now admits, was that she accepted Aaron Spelling's offer to join the long-running primetime soap without really thinking it through. "I was so grateful to Aaron for just offering me a job without ever having to audition. I was kind of oblivious. I didnt realize. So I came to the producers at the end of the first season and said that I didnt want to come back for the next season. And we talked about it and came to a compromise, which was do a half of a season."
Still, Vanessa concedes that it wasnt easy to walk into the office of a TV titan like Spelling and give notice -- especially after said titan went out of his way to create a role specifically for her. "It was tough because I didnt want him to feel like I didnt appreciate the experience, because I really, really did," she says. "I learned so much as a person and as an actress. I'm just trying to listen to my heart and not my head, because your head will tell you, 'You're crazy. This is more money than you've ever made in your life.' But I know I made the right choice."
Saying Goodbye... Again
So, with that business taken care of, Vanessa faced another frightening hurdle: bidding adieu to her 90210 family. As it was, she still hadnt fully recovered from her traumatizing GH exit. But the two situations were far from comparable, she says. "I knew when I staarted 90210 that it wasnt going to be like GH. It wasnt going to be a place where I wanted to stay forever. It was more like a passing-through thing, like something I wanted to come in and learn new things from, then move on.
"Besides, I never really felt a part of the 90210 gang, and rightly so, because these people have been doing the show for 10 years. They've grown up together, literally. And that's how I felt on GH. They were my family. I went from a kid to an adult there, and that's a really important time in your life."
As a result of feeling like an outsider at 90210, Vanessa -- who made her final appearance in mid-February when a kinder, gentler Gina left Beverly Hills -- was concerned that some of her co-stars might misinterpret her reasons for jumping ship. "I was so worried that someone was going to think badly of the fact that I wanted to leave. I didnt want anyone to think that it had anything to do with them."
No Regrets Now, nearly four months after taping her final 90210 episode (during which FOX announced that the show would not be returning in the fall for an 11th season), Vanessa continues to revel in the perks of unemployment. For starters, she woke up at 12:30 pm on the day of this interview. "I havent slept until noon since I was in high school. It's amazing. And now I'm like, 'Mom, I'm going to drive out and pick you up, and we're going to go to the park and have lunch.' It's so great. And I havent spent 10 minutes with my niece in eight years. Now, I'm driving her to school at 8 am watching her marimba performance. That's what life is all about."
So forget Springfield. Is Vanessa pulling a Fonda -- as in Jane -- and quitting the biz altoghether? Not a chance. She reveals that she has received numerous offers since becoming a free agent -- including one from NBC to join a drama -- but she's in a position now where she can be choosier with projects. "Acting is my passion, but I want to balance it out," says the aspiring Broadway headliner, who won raves last summer for her role as a mobster's wife in the Los Angeles play Starfire. "I want to have a life and then do a project that I'm in love with. I got to make enough money on 90210 where I can sit back and turn down stuff and wait for something that I'm really in love with.
"It's hard to turn stuff down, though, because I get afraid that the offers are going to stop coming. But that's just fear that I'm going to get dropped and I dont think that God ever drops me. God's on my side." -- Michael Ausiello
Why Vanessa Marcil's life is no longer an open book
Vanessa Marcil thinks that she's got a handle on how one becomes a successful tabloid writer. "You just make up sh-- that sounds interesting."
But even the actress admits that occasionally, the rags manage to get something right. "Yeah, they'll say, 'She's having an alien child, and she was wearing red shoes at the time.' And I'm like, 'Well, I was wearing red shoes.'"
All joking aside, it's not always easy to laugh off the mud being slung, as the GH alumna discovered first-hand when she and former fiance and co-star Tyler Christopher split. "We've been very hurt by just the flat-out lies and misquotes," she sighs, adding that she regrets being so public about their relationship early on. "I'll never do it again. I wont comment on my personal life because it really is better personal. Some things are too special to share.
"But I've seen a lot of people go through this," she continues. "You fall in love for the first time and you're so excited about it that you just want to scream it to the world."
For the record, Vanessa says that she and Tyler remain the best of friends. "We're closer than we've ever been. And we love each other so much."
Alien babies aside, some of the latest Vanessa Marcil gossip is of this world. Here's a sampling, followed by the actess' official responses.
Rumor: Vanessa Marcil is joining the cast of Friends!
For The Record: "I have had meetings with NBC," she admits. "I will say that. And I'd love to do something with them, although when it comes to mentioning specific shows, I couldnt say anything until I'm there."
Rumor: Vanessa Marcil is starring in Aaron Spelling's upcoming NBC primetime soap, Titans!
For The Record: "One of the things that's so great about Aaron is that he's really loyal to his actors," she says. "He likes to grab them and use them over and over. But again, until I'm actually there, I couldnt comment."
Rumor: Vanessa Marcil has signed a development deal with Warner Bros. Television, producer of such hits as ER!
For The Record: "I'm not signing any development deals," she insists. "I'm going to stay on my own."
Will They Come Back?
SOU July 4, 2000
Not a day goes by that Vanessa Marcil (ex-Brenda) doesnt find herself having to fight the impulse to return to General Hospital. It still represents home and family to the actress who made no secret of having less than the perfect experience playing Gina on Beverly Hills 90210.
"90210 was a big change for me, work-wise and emotionally," she admits. "I didnt really fit in over there, although it was to be expected because the people there had worked together for ten years and I was the new girl. I hadnt been the new girl for a really long time. In the movies, I had been the new girl, but it was short. It was a hard time and I was going through a lot of difficult things personally, so it was just one of those years."
Although Vanessa asked to be let out of her 90210 contract early, she is extremely appreciative of the lesson-filled experience. "I really learned alot about my strengths -- that I can be in a situation that is not as comfortable or productive as what I'm used to, and not as fun or nurturing, but gain a lot. I learned a lot about the technical side of shooting a show. 90210 was shot so different from GH. A primetime show is shot like a movie, so everything is done with one camera, so it would take maybe three hours to do a scene on 90210, while it would take 10 minutes to shoot a scene on GH.
"I think what made it hardest of all was that I was leaving the first place I ever accomplished work I was proud of, and where I really felt like I belonged, where I was appreciated and respected. It really felt like how it must feel to kids when they leave home to go to college."
Although Vanessa knew she needed to leave GH to spread her wings, it's still agonizing when she turns on her tv and sees the show. "The thing that kills me is seeing Maurice and Sarah Brown. I didnt get to work much with her before I left the show... and I'd do any storyline at all with that girl! Give me a lesbian storyline with her!" she blurts out with a laugh. "I want to kiss her more than any man on the show because she's so damn good!"
GH headwriter Bob Guza has confirmed that if Brenda returned to the canvas, it would present a dynamic triangle with Sonny and Carly. "Could you tempt me anymore than saying if I went back, I would be in a triangle with Maurice and Sarah? It would be an amazing year of acting for me. But here's the tricky part -- it would be hard because of the way they chose to get rid of Brenda. I personally dont like it on soap operas when people come back from the dead. I'm big on keeping it real, so it couldnt be amnesia or being held hostage. It would have to be that, for some reason, she made that choice to leave.
"The other problem is that I could not go back to GH for just a few months. If I went back, it would have to be for a while. To do that story justice, it would have to be for at least a year, and that would put a hold on everything I'm doing now. The reality is that I've only been out in Hollywood for the first time for the past month. I want to grow and spread my wings, and doing that means facing my fears, trying new things and putting myself out there. It's not always going to be comfortable.
"I think you can get too comfortable in one place... and I was very comfortable on GH. That's not to say that comfortable is necessarily a bad thing, but for me, personally, I like to expand my comfort zone. I think if you're moving forward and facing your fears, you're definitely not going to be feeling comfortable all the time. It all depends on what you want out of life. I want to die saying that there was nothing I wanted to do that I didnt try doing. It doesnt mean I'm going to be successful at everything I tried, but at least I'll know I tried. That's what makes life rich -- I'm constantly trying new things."
Since leaving 90210, Vanessa has been enjoying time with family and loved ones while formulating her plans for the future. "Last season, when I had a vacation, I ended up going to Indonesia. A friend bought me my first really nice camera and I started taking pictures there. I was amazed by the culture and how happy everyone is there, yet they are so poor. I love anything that pronounces how the American Dream is a bunch of bullshit. People waste their lives going after it, thinking, 'If I just have that...' and then some people get it and become even more depressed because they find out that it doesnt bring you the great happiness you thought it would. The people in Indonesia were laughing all the time and the families were always together. It was really inspiring to see. I know a lot of very successful people out here and I just dont see that kind of laughter. I started taking pictures of them, and it's turned into a book called 'We', which will be a collection of photos of some famous people mixed with everyday people, with the idea of united we stand, divided we fall, which is what it says when you open the book. The end of it is the Serenity Prayer, which is my favorite prayer of all time. All the profits from the book are going to go to Oprah's Angel Network."
Vanessa is also working with a screenwriter on a tv series for her that she anticipates to be ready by next season. "It will be a dramedy -- an hour drama with a lot of comedy, much like life," she explains. "I feel like it's been the thing I've been holding off other things for. I really love being involved on the other side of the camera also, so I want to produce. When I'm older, I would love to do what GH executive producer Wendy Riche does and what former producer Francesca James does. She made such a profound difference in my life by coming out and really nurturing young talent. I hope that I can be a part of that."
Vanessa also acknowledges that she already has a huge talent pool from which to cast -- just in her friends and cohorts from GH alone. "It's so ironic that daytime gets the bad rap in the industry, because I worked with the most talented actors. There hasnt been an experience yet that has been more rewarding for me than playing Brenda. Nothing has even come close. I miss it every day. I miss feeling like an actress the way I felt every day when I was working there. I miss the devotion, focus and hard work that everyone I worked with put into their work. Working with Maurice is a life-changing experience and I am grateful that the option of returning is open to me.
"The other day, I was in the grocery store line with some friends, and on a magazine cover it said, 'Eight people we wish would come back.' I wanted to hide and look through it because I didnt want everyone to see what a big dork I am. I was having a sensitive day and I was all emotional and I was saying, 'I wonder if I'm in there or have I been forgotten?' I was in there! I got so excited that my friend said, 'You need to go to Soap Operas Anonymous.'"
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